The best novels that take a walk on the dark side

Charles Harper Webb Author Of Ursula Lake
By Charles Harper Webb

The Books I Picked & Why

The Magus

By John Fowles

Book cover of The Magus

Why this book?

The first time I read The Magus—I’ve re-read it twice—I barely slept until I finished it. I’m not exaggerating. Conchis, the rich and eccentric psychiatrist (or is he?), and Julie, the mysterious seductress, seemed yanked out of my own unconscious mind. At twenty-something, I identified so strongly with Nicholas, the similarly-aged protagonist, that I felt toyed with and tortured along with him. I was desperate to see how, and if, he would emerge from his sometimes-blissful, sometimes agonizing ordeal. Darkly erotic, The Magus is one of the most psychologically unsettling books I’ve ever read, and one of the best-written. Compelling is an understatement.

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.


By James Dickey

Book cover of Deliverance

Why this book?

The part of Texas where I grew up has quite a bit in common with the part of Georgia where this book takes place. I’ve also spent a fair amount of time hunting, fishing, and roaming the woods, and have bow-hunted enough to empathize completely with several of the most intense, exciting scenes. Strange and savage things happen in the woods. People revert easily to ancient instincts and behaviors. It doesn’t take a lot to bring the inner cave-man roaring back, as the four friends in Deliverance soon learn. This is a book of high adventure that reminds me that, beneath our trappings of civilization, we’re still great apes who dress for dinner.

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.


By Vladimir Nabokov

Book cover of Lolita

Why this book?

I was leery of this book when it was assigned in a college class. The first lines “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul”—intrigued me. One page later, I was hooked. Or seduced. Lolita drew me into a place where I would not have chosen to be—the psyche of an unregenerate pedophile-turned-murderer. Yet this man proves to be a learned romantic too, desperately in love. Because the prose is brilliant and offers access to the deepest inner longings of the man, I found myself torn between rooting for him and hoping he would die hideously. If you are interested in forbidden places in the human psyche, this book won’t disappoint.

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.


By Stephen King

Book cover of Carrie

Why this book?

Carrie is the ultimate revenge fantasy and a scary, exhilarating plunge into the Dark. I defy anyone not to empathize with Carrie. Raised by an off-the-deep-end-religious single mom, and mercilessly bullied by other girls in her high school, all she wants is to have friends and to fit in. I shared her fear and awe as she began to discover her own formidable “gifts.” When things seemed to improve at school, I hoped the change would last. But I feared it would not, and watched with mixed horror and satisfaction as the full extent of Carrie’s dark power imposed itself on the world. 

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

The Son

By Jo Nesbo

Book cover of The Son

Why this book?

This novel, translated from Norwegian, features a protagonist who is like a junkie-Christ, and an antagonist who makes Satan look like a kind old man. The atmosphere is as dark as I imagine an Oslo winter would be; the story, full of fascinating characters who propel the plot through twists and turns that kept me guessing and gasping. In one of the first, the junkie-Christ discovers that his father, a once-revered police officer, did not commit suicide as everyone believes, but was murdered. When junkie-Christ kicks heroin, snuffs his nimbus of sweetness and light, and sets out to avenge his father, the book, for me, was un-put-downable.

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Closely Related Book Lists

Distantly Related Book Lists